H.T. Sanchez

H.T. Sanchez

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Odessa, Texas - About two weeks before new TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez accepted his new job, he asked a subordinate in Odessa, Texas, where he was interim superintendent, to evaluate the Tucson contract offer using his Ector County Independent School District email account.

One ECISD board member said Sanchez took advantage while in power, and Sanchez said, "There's always better ways of doing things."

Emails obtained by the Odessa American show on June 17 and 18, Sanchez also discussed a contract with Tucson Unified School District by email with an employee of Proact, the search firm hired by TUSD. He made the request for a $225,000 base salary, compared with his ECISD salary of $201,426, according to the emails.

Emails obtained by the newspaper under a public-records request show Sanchez sent or received 20 emails through his ECISD account mentioning business with TUSD between June 14 and June 30 - his last two weeks in Odessa.

ECISD Human Resources Director and current acting Superintendent Brian Moersch emailed Sanchez a breakdown of the TUSD superintendent contract of $308,258, which did not include insurance premiums, life insurance or retirement annuities, according to the emails.

"Thanks for the breakdown. Thus (sic) could be a good consult service for you!" Sanchez wrote to Moersch at 12:04 a.m. June 18. About 15 minutes later, Moersch responded that he was searching for the information on whether the TUSD contract had increased since 2010 and that the separation clause needed clarification, among other comments.

Moersch, in the email, said Catherine Clifton, an Odessa employment law attorney, "will look over the changes and add her own suggestions in the morning. ECISD will not be able to match Tucson. I have more info to provide in person," the email said.

The email interaction occurred in the early morning on the same day a group of community and business leaders implored the ECISD board during a meeting to do all they could to keep Sanchez in Odessa.

Sanchez would continue serving ECISD as interim superintendent for 11 more days before making his decision known - accepting the TUSD job on June 29.

"What I see there is H.T. taking advantage of his position and putting Moersch in a compromising situation. That's H.T. taking advantage, and I guarantee it's not the first time it's happened. I don't have a problem with anything Brian Moersch did," ECISD board member Doyle Woodall said.

Moersch referred questions about the emails and his involvement in reviewing the Tucson contract to Sanchez.

"Bottom line - he was my supervisor. It would be prudent of him to provide the context," Moersch said.

Sanchez acknowledged this week that he used his ECISD email to communicate with the ECISD human resources director, but he said the emails were primarily sent late at night and on days Sanchez took off from work.

"There are multiple ways of looking at this," Sanchez said. "I could have used my personal account, but it was just a few emails here and there. There are always better ways of doing things."

He said it was never his intention to pull Moersch away from his work duties or to initiate a bidding war by sharing the contract details with him, but rather he was seeking a personal opinion from a friend.

"He's a friend of mine, I value his opinion, and I wanted his perspective," Sanchez said. "I had already given the board in Tucson my assurance that I would be coming here, and I always held firm in that."

Sanchez said he covered the expense of his correspondence with Catherine Clifton through his ECISD email personally.

"I would not use district money for that," he said. "That would be unethical and illegal."

ECISD personnel policies limit, but do not prohibit, personal use of district technology resources.

ECISD board President Ray Beaty declined to comment, saying he had no involvement. Board member Steve Brown also declined, saying Beaty is the board's spokesman.

While the Texas Education Agency doesn't have a clear-cut opinion on this situation, spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliff said that the Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators did say "generally speaking" it may not be the most effective way to seek advice.

Melva Cardenas, the executive director of TASPA, said she couldn't say the situation was unethical per se, but often school district employees will seek advice from human resource directors for better opportunities beyond their current position.

"HR is there to guide and assist someone who might be looking for a better opportunity," Cardenas said. As for Moersch's response that he was doing what his supervisor asked of him, Cardenas said that he might have felt an obligation because he is a subordinate, but "nothing prohibits (this) from being unacceptable," she said in reference to Sanchez asking for advice from HR.

names to be given

Tucson Unified School District officials said that today they will release the names of the three other finalists, in addition to H.T. Sanchez, who were interviewed by the Governing Board for the superintendent's position.

After the district withheld the names, claiming executive session privilege, the Arizona Daily Star sued. Pima County Superior Court Judge James Marner ruled last month the names must be released.

TUSD made great efforts to hide the candidates who were brought in for the interviews. A security plan the district submitted to the court showed box trucks were parked on either side of the candidate parking spaces to conceal them from view.

Candidates were escorted to different holding rooms to keep them from seeing one another.

To view the TUSD security plan, go to www.azstarnet.com/pdf

Arizona Daily Star reporter Alexis Huicochea contributed to this story.